The Unstoppable Tracey Jones
By Tracey Jones (Formerly Tracey Pye/ Amunet)
It was a lovely sunny morning and I was feeling on top of the world. I had just had a magical night at Stonehenge for the solstice with Neil, a man I had met three weeks earlier. As I pulled out of the driveway, I felt my Yamaha VX535 purring away under me like an old friend. I was on top of the world.
Then it happened: the moment that changed my life forever.
An old man on his way to the market pulled out in front of me. His car lurched into me with a terrible force that sent me flying through the air for what seemed like forever. All I could think was “How bad is this going to be?”
When I landed I felt okay, so I sat up and looked around for my bike. It was about 15 meters away. I tried to move, but as I lifted up my left leg it flopped around like a rag. I started crying, thinking “But I'm a dancer, this can't happen to me.” Within minutes, a policeman was there. He stayed with me until the ambulance arrived half an hour later.
Eventually I was airlifted to the Royal United Bath hospital, where Neil arrived to comfort me. We looked at each other in disbelief when the doctor told me he might have to take my foot off. I didn't believe him! I really thought that he was just covering himself and that he would be able to save it in the end.
When I woke up, they told me that my foot was gone. I still couldn't take it in. I was just glad to be alive and with the people who loved me most in the world.
The first time I tried to stand up, it was like a thousand hot needles being jammed up into my leg. Dancers from far and wide sent me cards, presents, and love. It meant so much to me. I kept every single one.
Everyone kept reminding me of Heather Mills, who was on Dancing with the Stars at the time. That did give me hope, but I knew in the back of my mind that the fluidity of Arabic dance needs feet – good, strong, flexible feet! For the time, I just put it out of my mind and concentrated on my recovery.
At my first prosthetics appointment I learned about the limitations of prosthetics, and my heart sank. I knew I would never be able to dance in the same way ever again. But Venus told me, “You can adapt.” Those words have stayed with me.
Many of my friends remained utterly convinced I would return to dance, and they told me not to sell my costumes. I sold a few, but I didn't give up hope. I duly packed the remainder of my costumes into two suitcases, and there they stayed for two years.
During those two years I had to start at the very beginning. I was dependant on others quite a lot, which was very hard for me. I spent the summer of 2007 without any limb at all, waiting for my residual limb to heal enough to be fitted for a prosthetic.
Wearing my new prosthetic hurt like hell and I still needed my crutches to walk on it. The first week I cried and cried, thinking “Is this what I've got to deal with for the rest of my life?” It was all very humbling. But it wasn't long before I was down to one crutch and then no crutches at all. The physiotherapists were amazed at my progress! I tribute that to the strong core stability and sense of balance that dance had given me.
Then came some exciting news – I was pregnant. Neil and I were over the moon! Knowing I had a new life growing inside me gave me hope and made me feel like a whole woman again. That summer I gave birth to our son Joshua, and the focus being on the baby took it off my leg. I had something to get up for every day. Someone needed me, and they needed me to be strong.
Unfortunately, my pregnancy wreaked havoc with my prosthetic. Every time you gain or lose five pounds, the socket stops fitting. During this time I fell twice and on one occasion broke my arm.
After Joshua was born, we moved to Devizes in Wiltshire. My limb settled down enough for me to get a better fitting leg. I took a jewelry-making course to satisfy my creative spirit.
I went to my prosthetist and told him to set my leg flat. Once you select a heel height, that's it!
When I got it home the next morning, I put on one of my favorite albums by Salsabil, which I had bought off Raksan. I had not listened to Arabic music for over two years, I couldn't bear to. Before I knew it I had danced the whole CD and finished up prancing round the room to a gypsy karisalama with my baby on my hip! It was a surprise and a joy. The limb was still not right though, and the National Health Service did not want to spend any money on changing the feet around.
In January 2009, I went to Dorset Orthopedic and instructed them to make me a leg for dancing in. I decided that I couldn't wait any longer; it was time to start teaching again. I knew that if I started a class, that would be it, I would get sucked back into the dancing and I would be able to share the joy of it with like-minded women.
The first week, I went to the hall on my own and danced for two hours straight! I got terrible blisters because the socket wasn't right and had to spend three days on crutches. I had just one week to heal before students would be coming! I got the prosthetist to make adjustments to the socket and kept my fingers crossed.
My class has been going for five weeks now and my students have learned their first choreography. They are a fun group and I love teaching again. I book the hall out for two hours a week just for myself, and this is such a luxury. I’m preparing my own dances for performance. I think that people will be inspired and feel better about themselves if they can see what can be overcome if you want to do something badly enough.
There are some moves that I find hard, and I do have to adapt. It is very hard shimmying with my left leg, but working on it helps to rebuild the quad muscles, which wasted away terribly. Floor work is definitely out, and level changes are difficult as I have restricted movement around my knee because of the hard acrylic socket it is incased in. Dancing up on the balls of my feet has extreme limitations. Balancing on the artificial limb is hard, especially if I want to turn fast or spin!
Then there are moves I find surprisingly easy. The knowledge I have of dance has not left me, and so there are 1001 ways to express the feeling and composition of the music. My restricted mobility lends itself to a greater creativity in my dancing.
I am smiling and full of joy when I dance. Spiritually I am a much stronger person, and in my personal life I am much happier. I hope that if you ever see me perform that my strength and resilience will shine through, and that you will not see my disability. You will see the real me, the essence of who I am.
Dance still remains my most powerful form of expression.
To see how far Tracey has come, please visit her profile.